A day before he was shot in the head, six days before he was taken off life support, 9-year-old Jaeden Sharpe, his brother Justin and other family members had started a clothing line named J.J. Sharpe IMPACT. It wasn't for the money or for status, but for fun and to spread a positive message.
His cherubic face beamed from the company's first T-shirts worn by family, friends, community members and mourners who honored him during his funeral at Monument of Faith Church in Durham on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Sharpe, a third grader at W.G. Pearson Magnet Elementary School, was shot Jan. 4 in his mother's car in the driveway of their home on Lucas Drive; he died Jan. 9. His murder was the first of the year in Durham.
Visitors crowded in the wings, overflowed into the aisles and church lobby, testifying to his impact on a shocked and grief-stricken Durham community. Untold promise was squandered in the senseless twitch of finger and trigger. Sharpe's 31-year-old mother, Lakeisha Holloway, was also shot but was released from the hospital and attended the funeral. She sat stunned through the service, only beginning to recover from her physical wounds.
Was his murder retaliation? Who was the target? No one has been charged with the slaying; police are searching for suspects. They need someone to break the silence that denies justice for so many shooting victims in Durham.
The mood of the family cycled between disbelief and fear in the days since Jaeden's death. Wailing music could be heard from outside the church where Durham Police officers waited like sentries on the side streets. No one was going to disrupt Jaeden's day.
During the funeral, W.G. Pearson Principal LaManda Chestnut-Pryor memorialized Jaeden in poem as an "Angel Child." Bethesda Cowboys youth football coach Corey Freeman recalled his rare determination and athleticism. His aunt Cynthia Holloway read his obituary and remembered his "effervescence," his "infectious smile" and his smooth dance moves. His 11-year-old sister, Jayla, just missed her brother. Everyone who spoke broke the three-minute time limit.
The Rev. Clarence Laney Jr. delivered a sermon titled "Lessons From Jaeden," with a simple biblical message he believed the young man embodied: "We must turn away from our preoccupation with status and humble ourselves like children."
He called on the crowd to surrender their suffering to the Lord, for they believe He, too, endured the death of a son. Laney echoed Martin Luther King Jr: "We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish as fools." He reminded the mourners to rejoice, since Jaeden would no longer have to live in a world plagued with poverty, violence, drugs, heartbreak and disappointment.
Rev. Laney also has a 9-year-old son, and he watched with the crowd as Jaeden was loaded like royalty into a horse-drawn carriage and escorted by police to the cemetery. The caravan passed school buses pulled over along Fayetteville Street. Jaeden should be on one of them, he thought.
At Beechwood Cemetery Jaeden was committed to the earth. After pleas and prayers, the bereaved plucked flowers from the casket arrangement. Some laughed at fond memories, others sobbed or lingered lost in thought. They slowly trickled to their cars until only the gravediggers and assistants from Holloway Memorial Funeral Home remained. In a mix of shiny black shoes and muddy boots, fedoras and workmen's clothes, the nine men went to work.
Together they folded the chairs, disassembled the tent and removed the green carpeting from around the grave. They hoisted the burial vault over Jaeden's casket to keep out the elements, winched it with hooks and tethers and nestled him down to rest. A diesel-powered bulldozer snorted to life and tumbled dirt into the hole. The diggers raked it evenly as they had done so many times before, tidying the mess. The temperature dropped with the sun. The funeral home assistants left down the grave path for a lone hearse on the horizon.
Three dirt-loads later the dozer shuddered and groaned as it pressed the ground flat over Jaeden. It beep-beep-beeped in reverse.
Then there was only silence and a bare patch in the grass.
The Sharpe family thanks:
Dr. Sheryl Brewer for her genuine support during our most difficult time. She extended the care and calm that was much needed during our hospital stay. Dr. Miliones, PICU, for his personal interest and support for Jaeden. Nurses, Martina (for coming in on her day off to care for Jaeden), Alisha, Holly, Steven and Blair. Monument of Faith Church Family for such a resounding message and the expressions of love from the staff at the end of the day. Durham Police for setting the family at ease with the support, order and respect during our final time with Jaeden. Family & Friends for all of the cards, food, love and donations.
Finally, to those that did not know him personally, but extended their hearts to support the family during this traumatic time of our lives. God bless you all and may peace be still.
For more information about Jaeden's T-shirts contact firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds benefit the Jaeden Sharpe Scholarship Foundation.
Anyone with information about the shooting should call the Durham Police Department at 919-560-4440 or Crime Stoppers at 919-683-1200. Crime Stoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases, and callers never have to identify themselves.